Aspiring youth meet, and practice with, visiting tennis stars
Team USA tennis player Coco Gauff plays tennis with a young participant during a youth clinic at the Columbia Athletic Club in south Everett on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Gauff was among five players on the team competing at the Fed
Cup qualifier match hosted in Everett. Team USA beat Latvia 3-2 at the event, and will move on to the Fed Cup itself.
EVERETT — Local kids got the opportunity to meet and play tennis with professional players and members of the University of Washington team during a youth clinic Feb. 4 at the Columbia Athletic Club in south Everett. With the Fed Cup qualifier tennis match in Everett Feb. 7-8, it was also an opportunity to help grow the game locally.
Members of Team USA hit balls with the participants. Professional tennis players Coco Gauff and Alison Riske, along with team captain Kathy Rinaldi, who is a retired player, and assistant coach Lisa Raymond, all got hands-on at the event.
Later the kids got a group photo with the pros and some even managed to get autographs. One young boy ran excitedly to show his mother Gauff’s signature on the handle of his tennis racket.
The event was part of the United States Tennis Association (USTA)’s Net Generation program, their youth brand meant to encourage involvement in the sport. It was open to youths of all skill levels ages 5-18. Pat Mitsch, a USTA spokesman, said 275 kids participated in the Everett event.
Leah Friedman, USTA’s national manager, said that getting to play and interact with the professional players is important to help show that the sport is accessible, and also to inspire kids both on and off the court.
With teen phenom Gauff, 15, the participants were seeing someone who is close to their own age.
“Coco helped us at Fed Cup in Asheville, North Carolina,” Friedman said. “She was part of our junior camp there and now two years later she’s on the team, it’s incredible.”
Friedman said that the game can help teach discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship lessons that players can take with them beyond the court.
Emerson Norris, 14, has been playing tennis since elementary school and reflected on the significance of the day. “I think my favorite part was seeing Coco Gauff, it was just crazy to think that a couple of days ago I was watching her on TV and now she’s in my home club,” Norris said. “She’s just such a role model and it was fun to meet her.”
Jadyn Mueller, 16, a junior on the Snohomish High team, enjoyed getting to interact with high-caliber tennis talent. After finding a wooden racket in her garage and trying out for the team her freshman year, Mueller said she hopes to one day play at the college level.
She liked the encouragement members of the Huskies team offered to her and she also got to “rally” with Gauff, plus get a cool souvenir. “It was really fun, she was really supportive, I got a video of it and I got a selfie with Coco,” Mueller said.
The six tennis courts at the athletic club were divided into multiple areas in which participants could cycle around to engage in different activities. It was a swirl of tennis balls and excited kids.
Olivia Zwar, 17, plays on the Everett High tennis team and got involved because she helped coach kids during a parks and recreation tennis program last summer.
She said besides getting to meet the star players, it also served to help kids just enjoy the game. “It wasn’t as much focused on improving and more just on getting the coordination and enjoying it as you go,” Zwar said. “It was a lot of fun just rallying, playing games or winning prizes; fun stuff that kids like.”
Twenty players from across the region north of Seattle got to be on the court as ball kids during the weekend matchup between Team USA and Latvia at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. Others also served as flag bearers during player introductions.
After last Tuesday’s event, Maia Marks, 17, who plays for the Snohomish High team and also helped at the clinic, said she was looking forward to her on-court role that weekend. “I am kind of nervous, but I am really excited because I get to be in close proximity to (the professional players), where you go up and give them the balls.”
Norris was also going to be a ball kid and agreed that being able to help out was a unique opportunity. “It’s just crazy to think that I will be on the court with some of the best tennis players in the world,” she said.
Several people at the youth clinic expressed local pride in their excitement for such a big event to take place in Everett.
Luong Hau, 25, played at Everett High and, after college, has been coaching both there and at the athletic club for the past three years. “This was just a really cool way to see a high-level of publicity and what it looks like when really high-level players come to a local town that doesn’t get too much exposure,” he said.
Marks said that despite sounding “kind of cheesy,” having the chance to experience this kind of event had actually made her world seem a little bigger. “Like, they did it, they are living their tennis dream and they are here and that means that we can do it, too,” she said.
Players practice at a youth clinic which featured professional tennis players at the Columbia Athletic Club in south Everett on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
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